Harvard’s Boot Camp For Undergrad Entrepreneurs

Hugo Van Vuuren, a co-founder of Xfund and a general partner

Hugo Van Vuuren, a co-founder of Xfund and a general partner


To do this, Eisenmann put together a team of ten first and second-year MBA students with extensive experience in the startup world to take ownership of the project. The group met about ten times over the course of fall, designing the boot camp curriculum, organizing panels and soliciting speakers and Harvard Business School professors to visit and teach case studies during the course of the week. Their challenge? To introduce the undergraduates to the basic concepts of entrepreneurship, while also giving them a crash course in business basics.

Most boot camps of this sort usually ask participants to come into the program with an idea for a business, Eisenmann adds.  In this case, the MBAs insisted that the undergrads not do that, but rather work together on a business idea assigned to them by the instructors.  That was a smart move because it gave the undergraduates equal ownership of the business ideas they worked on as a team, he said. “Having the MBAs involved in the design of the program was pretty cool and powerful,” Eisenmann says.

The MBA and faculty team structured the week so that undergraduates learned a different entrepreneurship concept every day from scratch. Topics covered included customer development, user experience, customer acquisitions and entrepreneurial finance. Every morning, a Harvard Business School professor came in and led a case study on the topic of the day. Later that afternoon, outside experts, most of whom were seasoned entrepreneurs and investors, would visit the class and speak on panels to students. Over the course of the week, 30 guests came to visit the students, including Chad Luarans, a Harvard graduate and founder and CEO of Cambridge-based home security system SimpliSafe, angel investor Andy Payne, and Neil Chheda, a co-founder and general partner at Romulus Capital, an early stage venture capital firm.


Bansi Shah, a second-year MBA who worked for two startups before starting Harvard Business School, helped designed the curriculum for the first day. She wanted students to learn the importance of understanding the consumer and the marketplace before even trying to come up with a business solution. To that point, she brought in a Harvard professor who had students examine a case study that looked at the influential design firm IDEO and how they explored the user needs of moviegoers in Peru in order to understand the type of products might appeal to consumers. Later that day, several staff members from IDEO’s Cambridge office came in to speak with the undergraduates about how the firm conducts interviews with users and use surveys and data analytics to understand consumers’ needs.

“I think a lot of times when you’re young you find a solution to a problem that you really, really like, but you don’t back up and think, ‘Is this a problem that really serves a market and has customers,” said Shah, who went to Stanford as an undergraduate and previously worked at startups Lattice Engines and Hersay Social. “I was super excited to be able to have people get a sense of what it feels like to jump into something high risk and unstructured and evaluate it.”

Erik Kuld, another second-year MBA on the Xbootcamp team, designed the second day of the boot camp, which focused on teaching undergraduates the importance of understanding users and meeting their needs, or the user experience. He brought in several local business founders, who spoke to students about the importance of strong software platforms and elegant user interfaces for consumers. Jenni Milne of Formlabs, a 3D printer manufacturer, came to speak to the class to speak about how the fast-growing startup used a Kickstarter campaign, to get the company off the ground. The other days of the week, students learned about the elements of a business model, entrepreneurial finance and the entrepreneurial mindset.


It’s the type of experience that Kuld, who majored in science and molecular biology while an undergraduate at Harvard College and later went on to work at fast-growing startup BOX and Google, said he would have liked to have had back when he was as a college student.

“At Harvard, there is definitely a traditional path to consulting and banking, and a lot of resources and enticing recruitment options from those companies,” he says. “But there was really nothing at the time in the realm of what I ended up doing after college. Had I known, I would have been maybe a bit faster and more prepared to make the move to the startup world once I arrived.”

With that in mind, the MBAs convened on the last day of the program to speak on a panel about the roles they’d held in the startup world prior to coming to business school, roles that many of the undergraduates in the bootcamp will likely hold if they choose to pursue careers at startups, Eisenmann says.

“It was fun for the MBAs to be on the other side and see how a program like this comes together,” Eisenmann adds. “With entrepreneurship, there’s a concept of pay it forward, and it turns out many of them had encountered people who were generous with their time and helped them, and they felt the obligation to do the same with the undergrads.”